Danger had come to Ponyville before, but it had never lit up the pre-dawn sky with a pillar of magic illumination.

One pink pony walked calmly out of the shadowed streets of Ponyville, heading towards the Everfree Forest and the shining beacon of light.

Beyond the outskirts of Ponyville, Hina the Kirin looked up at the beacon, startled. She considered it, turned, and tried to approach it.

She stopped, unable to move herself an inch closer. Away, yes, to the side, yes, but Hina could not get closer to the beacon, as if some giant obstacle impeded her body.

Hina’s eyes narrowed. She frowned, and her curious horn lit with a coruscating radiance, illuminating the countryside around her. She leaned into the block, all of her legs at steep angles to the ground, pushing while exerting her magic.


Her horn got brighter—and brighter—and brighter…

A blue blur cut the air, far from the Everfree. Rainbow Dash had discovered the obstacle right away. While she’d been high in the air, unable to judge distances properly against the darkened ground, she’d powered up to full speed in an attempt to get to the beacon. It had only sent her blasting sideways, glancing off the mysterious obstacle as if it were a titanic sphere of denial. She’d encircled the beacon twice and flown directly to the top of the sphere where the beam of light briefly bathed her in harmless brilliance (and nearly blinded her, not so harmless) and that was in the first fifteen seconds.

From the center of the sphere, where the beacon illuminated a ramshackle house and an unwelcoming stretch of forest clearing, Rainbow Dash was a blur of a speck making futile curlicues in the sky.

Faintly, so faintly, a screaming pegasus warcry filtered in from the far distance. The ever-changing patterns of streak and blur continued, sometimes in darkness, sometimes against the first weak glimmerings of dawn.

Outside, chores forgotten, Applejack leaned into the field of force, even farther than Hina had.

Deep ruts beneath her showed where her hooves had sought for purchase.

Pinkie Pie walked blithely on, deeper into the Everfree Forest: strolling toward the end of the world like it was just another party.

Another pegasus scream drifted faintly through the air, but she paid no attention.

She’d arrived.

Pinkie looked up at the brilliant shaft of light, and squinted. It was coming right through a crappy little abandoned house as if it had either burned through the roof, or had not even paid the slightest attention to physical obstacles.

“Welp,” she said.

Pinkie hopped in the air, clicked her hooves together, and skipped forward and across the small clearing and straight into the door that hung open, and partly off its hinges.

The beam was just as bright inside, and she squinted at the figure silhouetted against it. There was a hint of fangs, as expected. “Well,” she said, “here we are.”

“For now,” came a voice.

Pinkie blinked, and squinted harder.

“YOU’RE not Fluttershy!”

And it wasn’t. Her eyes adjusted. He moved away from the beacon, fiddling with something behind him she couldn’t see, and grinned fangishly at her, looking extremely tense.

“All the same, I’ve been expecting you,” he said.

Pinkie blinked again, with a poingy and rather silly noise that made him flinch. “You’re Snowy Hocks! What’re you doing here? YOU are the big bad?”

“I prefer to think of it as me being the future,” he said, his jaw tight. “Don’t mind this beacon. Think of it as a sort of food delivery system. It’ll bring me thralls and snacks, you know, just the sort of thing a working vampire needs when he’s taking over Ponyville. Do you have a preference? I mean, as to which you’re going to be?”

He chattered this bravely into the face of Pinkie’s creepy, million-watt smile, while his brain frantically calculated scenarios and strategies. He had an extraordinary new clarity of thought, from the soul of Numeric Essence. He knew he’d be needing every bit of it.

“Oh, is that what you think is going to happen?” she said, with a tiny and disturbing giggle. Snowy flinched again. Giggles were very bad news. For Pinkie, they spelled power, and he knew it.

“Of course!” he said, brazening it out. “I’m pleased you turned up. Once I devour your very soul, the others will be a piece of cupcake.” His grin warred with hers. Privately, he thought: keep talking, keep grinning, keep her doing likewise.

“It might take a while,” cooed Pinkie, teasingly. “A super-duper-ooper long while, even. What do you think of THAT?”

“Not necessarily a problem,” countered Snowy. “Why do you say that?”

Pinkie’s smile brightened. Snowy’s smile tightened.

“They won’t come!” taunted Pinkie Pie. “I built and deployed a plot device! It goes ‘whir’. I pushed a button and it stops other ponies from coming here! This wasn’t even supposed to be your death scene, you dummy!”

“It’s yours,” suggested Snowy Hocks.

Pinkie shook her head. “I’m telling you, I made a plot device. I can do that, you know. It’s stopped all the other ponies from interfering. It’s just you and me, bucko! No other ponies for you! It’ll take them forever!”

Snowy gave her a smug little grin. “I’ll wait. Undead, remember?”

Pinkie just shook her head. “Nopeity nopers, stinky-boy. You just walked into the wrong movie. I’m almost sorry for you.”

Snowy tensed. “You think I make a bad villain? If that’s what I am… which I’m not! I’m just here to rule this town. I’ve got big plans, you’ll see. Or rather, you won’t, will you? You’ll be another snack. Probably bad for my fangs, and full of sugar. Shall we begin?”

“It’s not so much about you being a bad villain,” said Pinkie.


“No, it’s more about you being extremely good confetti!” chirped Pinkie. Her eye twitched, and Snowy flinched again as she added, “Well, it’ll be kinda sticky. But nopony’s perfect!”

Snowy felt control slipping away from him, and scrambled for some angle to regain it. “Will that hurt?” he asked, at a loss for how to deal with the manic Pinkie.

“Who cares?” she said dismissively. “I’ll forget it by the next episode.”

Snowy rallied, for he thought he saw an opening. “Oh, but it matters! See the unicorn over there? I ate her SOUL. I think it hurt very much. At least, judging by the screams of agony.” Wince, damn you, he thought. Feel. Snap out of this.

“La la laaa!” sang Pinkie. “You suck, sucky McSuckerson! Doing things that don’t bear thinking about, shame on you! I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that! It’s confetti time!”

Snowy glared, and gave her an evil grin. Bingo! he thought. “On the contrary,” he said. “I feel I was right to do so because she meant to destroy me. Call it self-defense. So you see I had no choice. And I’ll remember her terrible screams because, after all, I caused them. I feel being haunted by them is only fair,” he lied. “I can face these things, Pinkie Pie.” He took a breath. “Why can’t you?”

Pinkie seemed more tense. “Are you kidding?” she retorted, tartly. “Listen, buster. I’m not even sure how you got into this story, but this is where you get out of it!”

“Not if you can’t face the reality of what you’re doing,” shot Snowy Hocks, grimly. “I can. What does that make you?”

“Reality, shmeality!” chirped Pinkie Pie, with an extra floof of her mane. “Look, I hate to break it to ya, but take it from Auntie Pinkie. You’re a dumb side character like… you know Fern Gully? You’re like a Fern Gully. Your buddy Hollyhock killed Fern Gully and I’m here to tell ya, nobody cared, they were too busy worrying about my obvious insanity!”

“Are you sure?” countered Snowy.

“I know it’s hard to imagine,” said Pinkie consolingly. “I think you basically shouldn’t worry about it. Only a few thousand words to go and it won’t be your problem anymore! I definitely have my mojo working, and that means you’re the next thing in the outline to check right off! So, would you rather be confetti, or would you rather be streamers? This will be the best murder party ever!”

Snowy glanced around huntedly, careful not to reveal what was hidden behind him. “Did mine count as a murder party? You know, when I sucked Numeric Essence’s blood and devoured her soul REAL SLOW?”

“Watch it,” snapped Pinkie. “Scary pony is MY job right now! It’s like you’re not even paying attention. Get it straight. Or you can be confetti REAL SLOW.”

She tossed her mane, stamped a hoof, and fixed him in a judgemental gaze. Snowy stared back, his undead heart pounding, and nearly wet himself as he saw that giddy merry light creeping back into her eyes. He had seconds, if that.

“LA la l…” she began to sing, carelessly, defiantly.

Snowy made his move.

He twisted and yanked a small form out from behind him, and it was a striped and winged form. Little Dursaa, obviously captive, alive but hypnotized until he was insensible and pliant. Snowy interposed the foal between himself and Pinkie. He took cover behind little Dursaa’s unresisting form. With a flash of fangs, he mimed biting the kid, stopping at the last moment, his eyes spitting defiance, the very image of a wicked evil monster menacing the helpless.

Pinkie sat back on her rump, shocked.

She began to laugh.

“Boy, are you a glutton for punishment!”

“I’m warning you, Pinkie Pie! I have this foal, see?”

“You are just making it so much worse for yourself,” said Pinkie, shaking her head in disbelief. “Go ahead, knock yourself out, kill some more background ponies! It’s not going to help! Have you got, like, no sense of stories at all? Are you totally loco? I’ll be feeding you into a wood chipper instead of a plot device and all the readers will just go yay!” She twitched, as if something about that word bothered her.

“Do you see? See this kid? Recognize him?” demanded Snowy.

“Ha!” cried Pinkie. “Do you expect that to stop me?”

Snowy Hocks sprang his trap.

“No,” he said. “I expect it not to stop you, thanks for asking.”

Pinkie Pie blinked, startled. “What?” she said, off balance.

Snowy sat up, ignoring his danger for one key moment. It all came down to this, one big gamble based on his observations and what he’d been able to deduce of Pinkie’s mad personality.

“Think about it,” he said. “You don’t love this foal. He’s Fluttershy’s child, but you resent those zebras so much that you’ll watch me devour the little tyke, and not even give a shit. He’s not worth saving, to you. Right? Because you hate males, and you hate those zebras, and this is Dursaa’s child. Oh, sorry: colt. Another male. In fact, you want me to kill him, don’t you, Pinkie Pie? Because Dursaa fucked Fluttershy, you don’t mind at all. You’ll just watch me kill Dursaa’s child. He’ll die in agony as I devour his tiny little soul, and you won’t do a thing to stop it, because this is Dursaa’s child. Isn’t that right, Pinkie Pie?”

Pinkie’s jaw had dropped as he went on and on, mercilessly. She stared at Snowy and the zebra-pegasus foal, and felt the echoes of his words. It was so unfair. SHE was the one who was there to say creepy truths and win the scene. She cast about for an argument, since she could feel to the core of her being that there would be no converting the old vampire to bloody confetti right then, and no sudden outbursts of violence for her to react to: Snowy wasn’t even going to bite little Dursaa at all. It was a trick, a horrible trick. They were obviously both still talking. She searched frantically for some part of his statement to fling in his face, make him a liar, since it was heavy-dialogue time and she had to respond in kind. Something heavy, something dramatic, something to break his assumptions and rock him back on his butt with amazement, turn the scene right around and put him on the defensive for good.

She found one.

“No,” said Pinkie. “He’s mine.” It was true: to a pegasus, the one biting the wing was parent to the spirit, the more intimate bonding. Fluttershy had asked her to do it, and she’d kindled the life that Dursaa had prepared for the world.

As she saw Snowy Hocks’ face light with satisfaction, she knew she’d fucked up.

“Ohhhhh,” he said, with feigned disappointment. “You’re not acting like it. I’ve seen disgust in your face when you look at him. Or at Fluttershy’s husband. Though I suppose you were also Fluttershy’s husband? Once? Too bad you ruined everything.”

Pinkie Pie drew a breath, and tried to bounce back. “Me? Ruin…” she began, but her Sense was going crazy, screaming realities at her. She was about to try and spout off lines from a Pinkie, but it wasn’t her. It was an alternate Pinkie, one of many, one that had more right to the indignation which went with that line. She, Pinkie, really wasn’t entitled to that indignation, because too much of what Snowy said was true. The Sense came pouring in, betraying her, and she had indeed ruined everything.

“I was just outwitting you,” said Snowy Hocks. “It’s what one has to do when faced with the most terrifying thing in Ponyville. More terrifying than a raging griffon, more disturbing than Princess Twilight Sparkle going crazy, more unpredictable and powerful than Discord at his worst. That is, of course, you. I’ve been more afraid of you than anypony else.”

Pinkie reeled, because her Sense confirmed every word. She rallied. “And you should be! You sh… should…”

All the way back in the fourth chapter. Her being so angry with her sister Marble Pie, her infuriating sister with her Sensier-than-thou Sense. And hearing her sister, Marble, saying “I wish you didn’t screw everything up, and end up k…”


She was the killer. She was the one behind the horror she’d glimpsed in a vision, and there she was telling vampire Snowy Hocks exactly that, and he was telling her…

As if reading her mind, staring into her eyes as the realizations struck home, Snowy said it. “So you’re the monster here, Pinkie Pie. You’re every bit as willing to see this child murdered as I am, but with far less excuse. Or, rather, your attitude toward the prospect is a genuinely evil thing, more evil than I could ever be, and you’ve allowed yourself that evil like it was a sugary treat. Does it make you feel better? At least I’m seeking power for good reason. It’s worth it, if I can protect the town I grew up in. You protect nothing. I’m rescuing Ponyville from YOU. You’ve been terrifying good ponies for years and never even gave a thought to it, and now you have gone too far, and the giggling, evil Pinkie Pie dies here today.”

Pinkie gulped, as her Sense confirmed that, too. It was the simple truth. A brief vision of Applejack cowering under her hat in terror flashed before her eyes, and Pinkie’s brain shorted out, leaving her speechless.

“Laugh that one off,” said Snowy Hocks, contemptuously.

Pinkie Pie was frozen, and she just stared, gutted… and slowly, her mane sagged and went limp, hanging perfectly straight. It was true. Her Sense confirmed it all. She’d been increasingly the villain for at least a book or more, never admitting it, alienating those she loved and destroying her own love with jealousy until she was no better than a terrifying vampire. She’d set out to murder the pony she loved most, using every special trick she had to do it, convincing herself the murder was right, and it had never been right.

It wasn’t even Fluttershy here with her in the final death scene. It was a tacky old stallion vampire taunting her with his evilness, knowing hers was just as bad.

“So,” said Snowy Hocks. “Do you want me to kill him after I kill you? Or would you like to watch?”

A new voice spoke, from the doorway.


Pinkie, her eyes wide and vulnerable, glanced back at the doorway to see Fluttershy standing there, in full vampony form, like a wraith of vengance. It seemed like the perfect time for a rattle of drums, or a bunch of dramatic close-ups and spooky tension-inducing harmonica music.

Snowy Hocks hadn’t got the memo. As Pinkie looked away, he flung little Dursaa to the side and lunged straight at Pinkie, fangs bared.

The noise Fluttershy made was incredible, a bestial shriek of rage like a maddened griffin, and she charged too, directly at him, locking gazes between vampire and vampire in a double Stare…

The two vampires came to a halt, glaring at each other, and Pinkie scrabbled backward out of their way.

For a moment, it looked like they were going for the dramatic close-ups thing after all. Pinkie squinted, completely out of her depth, doubting everything and feeling helpless.

“Whatcha doing?” she finally said… and then she saw the glowing shafts of light, and fell silent.

Fluttershy snarled. Snowy Hocks bared his teeth. Both trembled with effort. Glowing beams of light steadily brightened, between their glaring eyes.

“Don’t,” rasped Fluttershy.

“I wondered if this would work,” said Snowy Hocks, more normally.

The glow brightened. Fluttershy shuddered, and stamped with a forehoof, redoubling her efforts.

“No, seriously, what are you doing?” said Pinkie Pie.

Snowy didn’t even glance in her direction… but Pinkie gasped, and found she couldn’t move her hooves. All she could do was watch. He hadn’t looked at her, but all the same he was somehow pinning her hooves to the ground.

“Well, thank you, Numeric Essence,” said Snowy Hocks. “I believe that’s from her. The extra power, I mean. Very powerful unicorn. Absorbing those powers was key to my victory.”

The glowing light between the vampires’ eyes redoubled. It was Fluttershy’s turn to gasp. She grimaced in apparent pain, and the glow brightened even more.

“What are you DOING?” shrieked Pinkie Pie.

“I’m killing Fluttershy,” said Snowy. “I didn’t know if this would work though I’ve heard stories about it. Impressive that she instantly matched it. Of course, I’ve devoured the soul of a very powerful unicorn. She hasn’t eaten any souls, and that’s why she’s going to die now.”

“But what is it?” wailed Pinkie, still unable to shift her hooves, rapidly succumbing to hysteria.

“Hate,” said Snowy Hocks. “It’s a very old story my grandmother told. Vampires can hate each other to death with their stares. I think it’ll set her on fire. I have to expend my life-force, or perhaps you’d call it death-force, to do it. Of course, so does she… and she hasn’t got nearly as much, not remotely. I stare at her, she stares at me, and we devour each other with hatred until only one vampire remains. All done with the eyes, dear Pinkie Pie, it’s all in the eyes and the stare.”

“What if she looks away?” said Pinkie Pie.

“Then I kill her instantly,” replied Snowy. “I’m far more powerful, you’re immobilized, and apparently you’ve stopped anypony else from coming here. Thank you for that.”

The light intensified, until it was nearly as bright as the beacon Numeric Essence had made.

“Give up,” said Snowy Hocks to Fluttershy. “Give up now or I’ll kill Pinkie Pie right away after I kill you. I have already defeated her. She can’t even run now, her mane changed style. We both know what that must mean, she’s whipped, just look at her. I could let her exist as a thrall if you only stop fighting and let this happen. Die. Isn’t that what you wanted deep down inside, coward-shy?”

Fluttershy’s voice rasped, tortured, but audible. “It’s burning… both of us. This is… draining… you.”

“It’s draining you worse,” pointed out Snowy. “You’re no match for me. I ate the winged unicorn and you’re going to die now. Give up and I’ll keep both Pinkie and the foal as thralls. In a sense, a little of you will still be with them. Eh?”

“Meanie,” retorted Fluttershy grimly. She shuddered as the light intensified.

The two vampires fell silent, straining as their Stares contended. For seconds, there was no sound… and then, a faint crackling could be heard, like the sound of two vampires beginning to burn from within. Then, Fluttershy whimpered, in obvious agony, but did not look away.

“Stop it!” shrieked Pinkie.

“Even if you kill me…” managed Fluttershy, “you’ll… be weaker, after. You’re going… to die… too.”

Snowy Hocks was sweating. “So are you, but sooner! Why do you have to be so persistent when this can only end one way? All right, final offer. We don’t have to be so wasteful of our selves, damn it. Run away! Run away as your miserable burnt-out self. Take these two, just get out of my sight!”

A bitter smile quirked Fluttershy’s lips, behind the fangs. “Scared…”

“You should be!” retorted Snowy Hocks.

“No, you are…” managed Fluttershy. “Weren’t planning… to spend… so much?”

“If I didn’t have to keep this mare glued to the floor, and the kid stunned,” retorted Snowy with spirit, “you’d be a smoking husk by now. Oh, you don’t think I remembered that? Your little zebra brat isn’t going to come save the day. I’ll have you know I can still destroy you, and they’ll be firmly under my control the whole time. It’ll take longer. It may consume a lot of me, but so what? YOU are going to die right now. Are you seriously going to spend everything you’ve got just to weaken me when that isn’t going to be enough?”

Tears of rage were leaking from Fluttershy’s eyes. “Don’t care. What happens to me… doesn’t matter. I’m not afraid… to die.” She rasped a deep breath, and added, “You… are.”

Pinkie had been watching this exchange helplessly, but this was too much. “Nooo!” she cried. “Let her go! Take me instead! Fluttershy, run!”

“Why?” hissed Fluttershy, bitterly. “Why should I?”

Pinkie gulped, eyes brimming with tears, lip quivering. “Because… I love you. I love you, Fluttershy. That’s the real truth of everything. I’m so sorry, and I love…”


Pinkie gasped. Fluttershy’s fury had suddenly doubled. Snowy grunted, and the beams of light between their eyes escalated until they hurt to look at.

It didn’t stop Fluttershy from talking.

“Don’t fucking love right now! That won’t help!” she snarled. “Hate this old horse, hate him with me, hate him to death! You of all ponies can help me do this. More than anypony else I know!”

Pinkie’s ears were back. “But…”

“Look how… frightened he is… of you,” managed Fluttershy. And indeed, Snowy Hocks looked worried, not happy about the turn things had taken.

“But… laughter… happy…” said Pinkie, appalled at what she was being asked to do. It was utterly and completely the opposite of her usual fey and silly powers, unthinkably alien and un-Pinkie. It was useless, wrong, all that Snowy had accused her of being, everything she had to avoid at all costs, and had always avoided no matter what, forever.

“I’ll tap it. Hate WITH me. Don’t you tell me you can’t,” hissed Fluttershy. Snowy Hocks was past talking, his full effort going into immobilizing Pinkie and little Dursaa while snuffing Fluttershy out. Fluttershy’s body began to smoke lightly.

“But…” moaned Pinkie, desperately not wanting to believe it.

“Don’t you lie to me!”


“I know you can,” hissed Fluttershy, and then she too was past speech, curls of smoke rising from her body as she made her ultimate last stand.

“Yeah…” whispered Pinkie Pie, as if to herself.

She turned her head, and looked at Snowy Hocks, his ears back as he poured vampire-force into his deadly task. Her lip curled.

“Yeah,” said Pinkie Pie. “I can.”

Snowy didn’t look away from Fluttershy, for he couldn’t: she was dumping every shred of her existence into his destruction. He couldn’t look at Pinkie Pie. It was just as well he couldn’t, for Pinkie Pie stared at him and her anger, her rage built and built: a lifetime of denial and repression coming forth, eyes burning with withering hatred, lank hair falling across the savagely hateful gaze like some feral beast, and even as the mouth once given to fake smiles and giggles was distorted into a grimace of bared-teeth sheer hatred, a soundless scream of impossible vengeance, face contorting terrifyingly, and Fluttershy tapped into that overflowing well of suppressed rage and directed it and the beam between vampire eyes went brighter and brighter and brighter…

Snowy Hocks screamed. He shrieked, bursting into flame, thrashing, all his resistance crumbling as the wrestling match of raw hate overwhelmed him. He seemed to explode, the brutal assault of the two mares wrecking him instantly, no longer opposed by his titanic evil willpower and dark vampire magic. He fell apart, foul-smelling charred meat that was half ashes and sparks.

Snowy Hocks was dead.

Hysterical, sobbing, Pinkie scrambled over to embrace Fluttershy. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, I’m sorry…”

Panting, Fluttershy let herself be hugged. She was still staring at the grisly charred pile of vampire that had been Snowy Hocks. She drew a few rasping deep breaths, got her heart going again, glared a last glare at the pile…

“Meanie,” Fluttershy declared, and turned her attention to Pinkie, and to little Dursaa, who came staggering groggily over to greet them.

Pinkie sobbed harder as Fluttershy stroked her mane. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I… eep!” She drew back, shocked.

“What?” said Fluttershy, glancing at little Dursaa. He, too, looked puzzled and alarmed, not approaching her at first, then sniffing and wrinkling his little nose at the smell of singed fur.

“Your face…” said Pinkie.

Fluttershy put her hoof up to her face, herself puzzled. Her cheek didn’t seem to be as soft as before, not as full as usual. Then she gasped, noticing the hoof. That, too, was different. It was gaunt, even skeletal. She brushed her mane out of her eyes, and it seemed thinner. She gazed at Pinkie, startled, and saw herself in Pinkie’s huge, tearful eyes.

Pinkie gulped. “He took your whole LIFE,” she said.

Fluttershy couldn’t look away. The reflection wasn’t only shown in Pinkie’s reaction. Pinkie’s pupils were so huge, and the light from the beacon so unforgiving, that she could literally see a small Fluttershy in those wide pony eyes, and it was a Fluttershy she didn’t think she’d ever see. She looked ancient, like some little granny goat of a pony, frail and almost skeletal and all big eyes and scruffy fetlocks. Her mane extensions were left far behind, shed in her flight through the forest as she raced to find the source of the beacon. She was entirely in her natural vampony form, but that form had been utterly changed.

Fluttershy felt within herself for dark vampiric powers, and came up with a blank. Where there had been a lurking inferno of wicked undead energy always trying to get out, and always firmly kept in its place, now there was nothing. No… that wasn’t literally true, she’d have been incinerated herself if it was. She reached deeper, searching where the fires of evil within her had raged, and eventually found no more than an ember of vampire magic, about as threatening as an angry kitten, quite unable to challenge her better nature. That was all that was left. That was how close she’d come to burning up entirely.

Little Dursaa sniffed at her again, confused, and then he made up his mind. He snuggled against her even though Mom wasn’t nearly as soft and cuddly as usual, and he smiled a little smile of security and contentment, and he curled up and began to nap, for he’d had a strange and disorienting day.

Fluttershy looked down at him, and then up into Pinkie Pie’s dismayed gaze, and her gaunt and aged face began to smile wider and wider in spite of the pink pony’s distress.

“You silly!” said Fluttershy, gently. “I didn’t have a life for him to take!”

Pinkie gulped. “I mean…”

Fluttershy’s eyes narrowed, and she tilted her head. “He took my beauty? My youth? That was fake, Pinkie, I was dead. I still am, as you must know. Isn’t it obvious now?”

Pinkie’s lip quivered. “I mean, he took…”

“No, Pinkie,” corrected Fluttershy. “I gave. And well worth it, I’d say. We beat that meanie! I couldn’t have done it without you. It was a terribly close call, even so.”

Pinkie just kept staring and staring, like she was looking at a ghost. Fluttershy’s eyes narrowed again.

“I’ll have you know, my mane and tail extensions can probably deal with this too,” she said. “I’m not worried that I’ll frighten the ponies in town. I’m sure Zecora can fix it. The illusion can remain. I’ll keep looking like pretty pegasus Fluttershy when I wear the extensions. This is just how I really am from now on. I think it’ll make some things more difficult, and I feel awfully weak, but then I was nearly burned to ashes so it seems ungrateful to object to any of it.”

Pinkie couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop staring at this strange new emaciated, ancient-looking Fluttershy vampony.

Fluttershy stuck out her lower lip against the vampire fangs. She blinked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I could file these until they’re quite blunt, now. I’m sure they won’t grow back. Yay! Maybe I’ll leave little bitty nubs to remember them by, so long as they’re good and blunt.”

Still, Pinkie stared.

Fluttershy made a face, and stamped a hoof. “Pinkie Pie! Cut it out! You know if I was a mortal pony I would have ended up like this one day! For Celestia’s sake, you’re looking at me like I was something more awful than a raging vampony! I’m not sure I believe what I’m seeing. Was I just a curvy flank, a voluptuous vagina to you? Was it always just the shape of me, your ultimate straight mare with fashion-model looks? Huh? Will you stop STARING?”

Even this didn’t break Pinkie’s trance of horror as she stared at her greatest love, reduced so obviously to the very brink of death.

Fluttershy pouted angrily, and narrowed her eyes one last time. “Do you still love me?”

The truth burst forth.

“YES!” wailed Pinkie, rushing forward to hug Fluttershy, nearly knocking little Dursaa aside, nearly snapping Fluttershy’s frail old bones in the intensity of her frantic embrace.

“Oof!” squeaked Fluttershy, alarmed, but quickly she realized she hadn’t been injured. Barely able to breathe as Pinkie clung to her, she smirked a wry little smirk over Pinkie’s shoulder, half-draped by lank straight-haired pink mane.

“I thought you might,” she said with satisfaction. “Oh, Pinkie, Pinkie, Pinkie.”

Pinkie sobbed again.

“Shh,” said Fluttershy. “Everything is going to be okay.”

“You were almost DEAD!”

“I keep telling you,” chided Fluttershy, “I am. You mean ‘gone’. Oh, Pinkie! Settle down. We won.”

Little Dursaa blinked in confusion, but it was only Other Mom, the funny pink one who kept leaving all the time and making faces. This time she wasn’t, she was hugging Mom a lot and staying right there!

Pinkie recoiled as the striped, winged colt cuddled up to her, and then glanced guiltily at Fluttershy. Little Dursaa nuzzled her side, yawned, and curled up to nap again.

“I haven’t been a good pony,” said Pinkie.

“Shh,” said Fluttershy. “We won. That’s enough for now.”

“Da!” cooed their baby, as he fell asleep.

Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “He really is going to learn more words, you know, though he’s certainly taking his time about it.”

Pinkie gazed off into space, tragically. “Maybe one day they won’t even be in zebronic!” she quipped, and then she cringed and her eyes filled with tears. “Listen to me, I’m being awful! Even now I’m being a, a… a dick!”

“Yes,” said Fluttershy. “I hoped one day you’d figure that out.”

Pinkie’s lip quivered. “I’m not supposed to be awful. It’s not okay for me to be awful…”

Fluttershy sighed, and cuddled Pinkie to her again. “Shhh.”

Pinkie cried for a while. She didn’t flinch from little Dursaa’s touch again, but she wept bitterly against Fluttershy’s neck, her mane hanging lank and straight the whole time.

Eventually she lifted her head, and looked into Fluttershy’s eyes.

“I thought you were the big evil,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“And why,” said Fluttershy softly, “would you think a thing like that, Pinkie Pie? Be honest.”

Pinkie gulped. “Honest…” she began, and broke off. Fluttershy waited.

“It’s because I can’t stop loving you, but I couldn’t have you,” admitted Pinkie. “And it hurts, it hurts how much I want you. I… I drove you away, Fluttershy. I even drove Zecora away.”

Fluttershy nodded. “She can’t help it,” she said. “She always had crushed on me. She’s a little like you that way. Maybe more flexible. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say that…”

“You see?” sniffled Pinkie. “It’s true. I’m no good. Zecora does stuff I just can’t do, for you. I knew all along she had a thing about you. I was so jealous… and I tried so hard…”

“Let’s not talk about them right now,” suggested Fluttershy.

“Because it would hurt my feelings and you never ever hurt anypony’s feelings?” said Pinkie Pie.

Fluttershy frowned.

“Because you were trying too hard,” she admitted, “and it got on my nerves and I stopped trying at all. It’s no wonder you got so bad, Pinkie Pie, since I resented your behavior but almost never said anything about it. I can’t accept responsibility for everything, but I don’t think a constant bath of pissy-shy helped your mood, or even your sanity. I lost patience, took everything we shared for myself and shut you out completely, knowing it would hurt you. I knew you couldn’t cope with that. I just didn’t care.”

Pinkie’s eyes widened. “What? But you’re the most loving, wonderful pony ever…”

“You just helped me hate a horrible monster to death,” accused Fluttershy. “Don’t you tell me I haven’t got a mean streak. We wouldn’t even be here if I couldn’t hold my own with it.”

Shaken, Pinkie thought back on how that had felt, and gazed over Fluttershy’s shoulder at the twisted corpse of Snowy Hocks.

“You did it out of love,” she said. “Just like I always need to bring love, and laughter, and…”

“Stop it,” said Fluttershy, and Pinkie trailed off. “You know that isn’t true. I did not do it out of love. I do this out of love,” she said, and snuggled Pinkie to demonstrate, scritching little Dursaa’s ear with the tip of a batty wing as she did. “I shouldn’t have let that get so far away from me. It’s bad for everypony when I do.”

Pinkie had gone very quiet. “But if even you can’t be a pony of pure love and kindness…”

“I do all right most of the time,” said Fluttershy. “I try very hard, very very hard. And sometimes, there is a meanie, a dreadful meanie, and nice won’t cut it anymore.”

“And you hate?” said Pinkie in a tiny little voice.

“I do.”

“How do you know if it’s right?”

“I don’t,” said Fluttershy calmly. “That’s why I’m so strict with myself about it. In this case I’m pretty sure I wasn’t wrong. I’ve never seen such an awful meanie as that horrible Snowy Hocks, ever. I’m glad I killed him.”

Pinkie was staring at nothing, looking frightened. “I was so sure you were the big evil. And then it was Snowy Hocks, and he was scary and bad and… and then he explained that, that the real big evil was m… me…”

“I wondered what he’d told you,” said Fluttershy. “You’ve only yourself to blame, but it just goes to show what a meanie he really was.”

“Myself to…” began Pinkie, and couldn’t finish. Fluttershy gave a little sigh.

“You tormented my zebras until I didn’t know what to think,” she explained. “You took it out on little Dursaa here, and he’s your baby as much as he’s mine and Dursaa’s. Ponies in town have been getting more and more frightened of you, and I didn’t know what to do since I wasn’t giving up my family just to please you. I wish I’d been brave enough to say something sooner. We’ve needed to have this conversation for a long time, Pinkie Pie.”

Pinkie stared at her, weeping, completely defenseless.

Fluttershy sighed again. “Oh, Pinkie. Maybe it all worked out somehow. I know it had me so angry that I did amazingly well when I went after meanie Snowy Hocks, and probably if you hadn’t been so awful I wouldn’t have had it in me. But you’ve been so much angrier that it’s quite terrifying, and you know what? In the end you turned it on Snowy, and you burned that fucker to the ground in seconds. I thought you might. No evil monster can hate like you! We saved Ponyville with it, Pinkie Pie, so maybe there’s a time and a place for everything.”

Pinkie’s eyes were so wide. “How can you talk this way, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy pouted, her lip sticking out against the vampire fangs. “Don’t be silly, Pinkie. I’m a vampire. I just TRY to be nice, because I care. You can love and hate, both. I’ve proved that. Don’t you think I’d understand hate and rage and all that nasty stuff? Don’t insult me.”

“But, I’m not a vampire,” said Pinkie weakly.

“So?” retorted the patient, but exasperated, vampony. “Never said you were.”

It got through, somehow. Pinkie gazed into space, distraught. “I… HATED,” she said. “Angry. I’m not the nice pony, always laughing. I had hate, all this time. Evilness…”

“Yes, I know,” said Fluttershy. “Now you finally know how I felt. I’ve had it for years, whether you like to admit it or not. Just like you. Though you really have a special way with it, and that’s me saying so.”

Pinkie gazed at her, totally vulnerable. “How do you LIVE with it?”

Fluttershy could have replied a number of ways, including with yet another reminder that she was a dead vampony and didn’t live at all, but love stirred within her and she didn’t even try to be snarky, or clever. Instead, she gave Pinkie Pie the truest answer from the deepest depths of her unbeating, but undaunted, heart.

“Carefully,” said Fluttershy.

Rather than explain further, she left it at that: and what more could she even say? Fluttershy spoke with gestures since she’d simplified things down to a single word, and she reached out to Pinkie and cradled her long lost, her mismatched, her impossible but indisputable love in a brave and determined embrace.

Every barrier, every wall of denial inside Pinkie gave way as she felt the love and acceptance Fluttershy still had for her in spite of Fluttershy’s completely different life, the family of zebras, the whole straight-mare world Fluttershy had constructed for herself that had seemed to hold no place for her little lesbian… Pinkie Pie relaxed, and lay in Fluttershy’s newly scruffy forelegs, trying for the first time in her life to understand herself. Little Dursaa snuggled against her and she didn’t flinch. Pinkie buried her face in Fluttershy’s thinning, scraggly mane, and tried to wrap her head around this strange new world where she wasn’t perfect, didn’t match it or conquer it, yet was still allowed to exist in it.

Fluttershy shed a tear of gratitude. She still existed too, but was rendered harmless, making everything so much easier. They’d defeated the evil monster and survived, except for poor Numeric Essence, and even she had triumphed with the spell she’d so cherished and wanted to use. She would have been so proud to know the outcome—it was what she would have wanted, to sound the alarm and have ponies save the day. Fluttershy continued to weigh the goods and bads. She’d finally broken through to Pinkie, who would probably be much less awful most of the time. Little Dursaa would get his chance to win her over, the zebras would be happier, perhaps even the damage between Zecora and Pinkie could be mended if Pinkie was willing to learn. Another tear dripped down Fluttershy’s hollowed cheek. Things were going to be okay.

For what seemed like an eternity, they lay there, the vampony serenely contemplating an unfolding life of peace and humbleness, the pink pony struggling to accept the full spectrum of herself that her beloved so easily acknowledged, and the innocent zebra-pegasus foal snuggled up against both of them, sleeping. It seemed like dawn moved too quickly, in their moment of mingled turmoil and calm. They needed more time, but dawn wouldn’t wait. Dawn rushed, speeded, brought day into the decripit cabin with undue haste.

“Um…” said Fluttershy, quietly. She was looking past Pinkie, at that still-open door.

Sparkling light reflected in her eyes. Pinkie turned her head to see the Kirin, Hina, forcing her way toward both of them, the dawn behind her… her body completely wreathed in scales, her face contorted with effort, her mane and tail and fetlocks a crackling storm of energy, and her strange Kirin horn lit up like a small star had come down to Ponyville looking for something evil to burn. Even a plot device could not block Hina’s justice forever.